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South Carolina Air National Guard Builds Senior Center for Blackfeet Nation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amy Rangel
  • 169th FW Public Affairs

Thirty-nine Airmen from the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Civil Engineer Squadron and 169th Force Support Squadron traveled to Heart Butte, Montana, to build a senior center for the Blackfeet Nation from Aug. 28-Sept.10, 2022, as part of their annual Deployment for Training program.

Each year the South Carolina Air National Guard (SCANG) seeks out opportunities like this project so Airmen can acquire and maintain skills they might not have a chance to practice during a standard drill weekend.

"The goal of this project is to build a senior center for the local community and get valuable training for our Airmen, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Faulknham, project lead for the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron.

The SCANG was the seventh and final rotation of U.S. military personnel to cycle through and work on this 6,000-square-foot structure, which required HVAC technicians, electricians, heavy equipment operators and plumbers. Although Airmen are each trained in a specific job, this multi-layered project allowed them to learn from each other and the civilian contractor on the job site.

"I would say the best experience on the job site was working with the general contractor, going over the plans and laying out complex exterior walls," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Trey Kizer, structural journeyman. "I hadn't had much experience with that, and that was a really rewarding experience for me."

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Crystal Boyd, SCANG base services manager, led the 169th Force Support team. Her team gained valuable training by providing meals for U.S. military personnel and distinguished visitors at various locations during the mission.

Boyd's duties extended beyond the SCANG's time in Heart Butte, as she was selected by the Department of Defense and Innovative Ready Training (IRT) program to serve the duration of construction.

IRT is a Department of Defense sponsored program designed to match a community in need of infrastructure with military personnel selected to do the work to stay mission ready. The application process generally takes about two years from when IRT makes the initial visit to the prospective location.

"Innovative Readiness Training brings the locals and military together," said Kizer. "The military provides manpower, we get good training on it, and the locals provide material, and we get to build awesome projects like this."

The SCANG aimed to complete the overall project during this trip, however, due to supply chain issues, the Airmen completed as much of the construction as they could with materials available.  

"The roof trusses won't be available for a few more weeks,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Justin Feeney, 169th Civil Engineer Squadron and electrical shop supervisor for the project. "We worked the project up as far as we could without being able to do the roof and without the rest of the materials at the job site."

Although more work is needed, from this point the civilian contractors will take over as scheduled.

The SCANG Airmen feel good about the training they received and the impact it will make on the community.

"The work was meaningful," said Feeney. "We got a lot of experience, and we got to put new people in leadership positions that haven't gotten to do that before.”